Boston fern

Boston fern

Boston ferns are one of the most attractive and admired foliage plants. They are often seen on shady porches during spring and summer months. Many people shy away from the Boston fern because of the attention these plants require to remain green and healthy. With proper lighting, humidity, nutrients, and care the Boston fern can be a spectacular addition to your home.

The website "Bachman's Information Sheets", in the publication entitled "Boston-type Ferns", written by Margaret Purcell and published by Bachman's Inc., provides some history on the Boston fern. It says that Boston ferns are tropical plants that were shipped to Boston for the first time in 1894. According to the website publication entitled "Boston Fern Production Guide", written by R.W. Henley, L.S. Osborne, A.R. Chase, and published by the Central Florida Research and Education Center, the Boston fern was grown commercially for the first time in the state of Florida in 1914. It says the Boston fern, which is also known as the sword fern, comes from the "Nephrolepis" species. The most popular species cultivated in America is "Nephrolepis exaltata". The same article says there are many varieties of ferns that are considered a Boston fern.

"Boston Fern Production Guide" describes several varieties of the Boston fern which are grown in Florida. The first is a small variety called "Dallas". This Boston fern is described as having short leaves (fronds) which grow and spread quite rapidly. This miniature Boston fern is a great choice for a dish garden, terrarium, or as a hanging plant.

Next is the "Bostoniensis" which is a large variety that has long, elegantly curved fronds. This variety originates from a shipment that contained some of the very first Boston ferns sent from Florida. They look beautiful in hanging baskets or in plant stands.

"Bostoniensis Compacta" is a well-favored, medium-size variety. This Boston fern is described as having dense fronds that are shorter than other varieties. This variety looks beautiful in a plant stand or as a hanging plant.

"Fluffy Duffy" is described by "Boston Fern Production Guide" as a lacy-textured, small variety that boasts wide, overlapping fronds. This variety, although diversified, is harder to grow and has a tendency to develop a disease of the foliage called "Rhizoctonia". This particular Boston fern is a good variety to grow outdoors in a plant stand, on a table, or in a hanging basket.

Lastly is a medium-size Boston fern called "Florida Ruffle". This plant is described as having wide based fronds that stand quite rigid. This variety does very well outdoors in plant stands, on tables, or in hanging baskets.

"Boston-type Ferns" says the Boston fern requires indirect or diffused lighting. In locations where there is not enough natural light, a grow light can be used. The website "Gardening With the Garden Helper" in the article entitled "BIG Boston Fern", which was published by "The Garden Helper", says a Boston fern growing under artificial or natural light requires from twelve to sixteen hours of light each day.

During active growth, "Boston-type Ferns" says these plants should be watered on a regular basis in order for the soil to remain moist. Distilled water is preferred over tap water because tap water often contains harmful chlorine. It is recommended that the Boston fern is allowed to become dry between times of watering in fall and winter months. "BIG Boston Fern" recommends setting a potted fern in a basin of water so it can soak up the moisture naturally.

Maintaining proper levels of temperature and humidity are necessary for successful growth of the Boston fern. "BIG Boston Fern" states that Boston ferns like cool locations with lots of humidity. If the air in your home is too dry, operating a humidifier will greatly increase the humidity level. The same article says that misting your Boston fern each day will also provide much needed humidity. When the leaves and fronds of the Boston fern become dry and brown, they should be removed in order to maintain an attractive appearance says "Boston-type Ferns".

Water-soluble plant food applied once every two weeks during the warmer months is recommended by "Boston-type Ferns". During winter, it says fertilizer should be applied monthly. To help achieve a rich, green color, the Boston fern can be given a mixture of two tablespoons of Epsom salts per gallon of water. The same article says this mixture can be applied two times per year.

Boston ferns add a great deal of character and charm to a home. Any style of residence can be enhanced with the beauty of a Boston fern. The Boston fern can add warmth and grace to a stately Victorian mansion or even a humble log cabin. It is no wonder why the Boston fern has been a favorite foliage plant for over a century.

Ideal Growing Conditions

When thinking of wild ferns, people envision dark, shady locations, but Boston ferns require lots of light. Place your Boston fern near a window that receives plenty of indirect sunshine. A bright east or west-facing window is an ideal location. They can endure dimly lit locations, but they won't flourish and grow.

Boston ferns prefer daytime temperatures that range from 65°F to 75°F. Evening temperatures should be a little cooler. Temperatures ranging between 55°F and 65°F are ideal. Place your plant in a naturally cooler location of the home, or in a room where heat vents can be closed if the recommended evening temperatures are too cool for comfort.

Also, keep in mind that areas closer to the ceiling are naturally warmer than lower levels. If your Boston fern hangs near the ceiling, check the temperature, and adjust it if necessary. Otherwise, consider placing in a sturdy plant stand or on a table.

Providing Humidity

Humidity is essential to Boston ferns, so they must receive an adequate amount in order to survive. The average home doesn't provide anywhere close to the amount of humidity required, especially during winter months when the home is heated. Forty percent humidity is good, but the more humidity the better. Fifty percent humidity is ideal.

When temperatures rise above 70°F, you can provide your Boston fern with some of the humidity it requires by misting it on a daily basis. The humidity provided through misting is helpful, but it's not the complete answer. When the drops of water evaporate, so do the benefits.

During the hot months of summer, a Boston fern on a table or stand can be placed on a saucer filled with stones and water. As the water evaporates, humidity is naturally provided to the plant. Simply fill a plant saucer with gravel, and fill the saucer with water, just below the top of the gravel. Place the pot on the gravel, and refill the saucer as necessary.

A humidifier is by far the best way to ensure your Boston fern is receiving the humidity it requires. For best results, run a humidifier in the room where your plant is located, especially during winter months when the air is warm and dry. A humidifier is a great investment since it provides countless benefits to the home and family as well as to moisture loving plants.

Consider buying a hygrometer to measure indoor humidity. This handy gauge will enable you to attain the correct level of humidity for optimal health and vigorous growth. Hygrometers are available in many stores that sell outdoor thermometers, plants, and garden supplies.

Watering and Feeding

In warmer months during the growing season, provide your Boston fern with enough tepid water to keep the soil evenly moist but not saturated. Water it more frequently during the hottest months of summer, and try not to let the soil become dry before watering. The foliage will lose its bright green healthy glow if it becomes too dry.

In the winter, allow the surface of the soil to become a little dry before watering. When new fronds begin to appear, begin watering more often. Generally, you'll notice the appearance of new growth as the end of winter approaches.

During spring, summer, and fall, apply a monthly dose of nitrogen-rich water-soluble houseplant food that's diluted to half of the recommended strength. Don't feed your Boston fern during winter months.


It's not necessary to repot a Boston fern unless you want a larger plant. When the roots fill the pot, trim them to provide more space. Another option is dividing the root bound plant into smaller plants. Choose containers wisely. The larger the pots, the larger the plants will grow, so keep this in mind when shopping for replacements.

To make a potting mixture suitable for Boston ferns, combine 2 parts peat moss, 2 parts sterile potting soil, 1 part perlite, and a handful of charcoal granules. Repot your plant, and care for it as directed. With proper care and attention, your Boston fern will grow and thrive for many years to come.

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